Cheyenne Indian Portraits, Painted by George Catlin

By Marie H. Erwin

We are including in this number of the Annals a brief history of the migration of the Cheyenne Indians and of how George Catlin happened to paint portraits of some of the members of the westernmost tribe of the Algonkin family, who claimed and inhabited at that time the greater part of what later became Wyoming, as their hunting grounds.

The Crows and Blackfeet tribes also inhabited a part of this country about the same time, and we plan to treat them in a similar manner in following issues.

The two photographs with this article and those to be included in the ensuing issues of the Annals, are from the original paintings by George Catlin in the United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

They are a gift to the Wyoming Historical Department from Mr. A. Wetmore, Assistant Secretary of the United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

The early history of the Cheyenne Indians, a plains tribe of the Algonkin family, is as vague as that of their neighboring tribes. The Algonkin family which included numerous related tribes were, as early as the seventeenth century, ''the largest family of North American Indians within the present limits of the United States"1 and ''were at this period at the height of their prosperity."2 The earliest authenticated habitat "of this widely extended group was somewhere between the St. Lawrence River and Hudson Bay,"3 before the year 1700. In the seventeenth century they inhabited the country between New Foundland and the Mississippi and from the Ohio to Hudson Bay and Lake Winnipeg.4 Before the year 1700 their habitat was that part of Minnesota between the Mississippi, Minnesota and upper Red Rivers.5

It seems to be an established fact that the course of migration of the Indians was westward and southward; this tradition is especially true of the great Algonkin family.

In around 1700 the Cheyenne drifted from Minnesota toward the Missouri and roamed north and west of the Black Hills.6 This tribe while living in that part of the country which later became the state of Minnesota, and along the Missouri River, had established villages, made pottery and were engaged in agriculture; but they lost their arts upon being driven from their permanent villages and migrating to the plains, where necessity for existence made them a roving buffalo hunting people.7

In 1804 they were found by those enterprising explorers Lewis and Clarke, west across the Missouri River."8 in the Cheyenne River Valley and along the Black Hills. They then numbered about 1500.

Major T. E. Long in his first expedition 1819-20, reported having seen a small band of Cheyenne who seemed to have been separated from their tribe on the Missouri, joined the Arapahoe, and were wandering about the "Platte and the Arkansas."9

In 1825 a commission, including Brigadier General Henry Atkinson, of the United States Army and Major Benjamin O'Fallon, Indian agent, was appointed by President John Quincy Adams, with full powers and authority to hold treaties of trade and friendship with the Indian tribes ''beyond the Mississippi."10

On June 23, 1825, the commission and escort left Fort Lookout, and arrived at the mouth of the Teton River on June 30th, where there was an establishment of the American Fur Company on the right bank of the river. The commission waited here for the Cheyenne to come in from the plains for several days, they finally arrived July 5th; a council was held July 6th, with the Cheyenne Note: Fort Lookout was 40 miles below old Fort Pierre, in South Dakota.

Chiefs, Headmen and Warriors,11 and the first12 treaty between the United States Government and the Cheyennes was signed on that date. This Treaty was submitted by the President to the United States Senate for consideration January 9, 1826; was ratified February 6, 1826.13

Those who signed this first Treaty between the United States Government and the Cheyenne Indians were, Commissioners:

Henry Atkinson, Brig. Gen. United States Army.
Benjamin O'Fallon, United States Agent Indian Affairs.

Cheyenne Chiefs:
Sho-che-new-e-to-chaw-ca-we-wah-ca-to-we, or the wolf with the high back.
We-ch-ga-pa, or the little moon.
Ta-ton-ca-pa, or the buffalo head.
J-a-pu, or the one who talks against the others.

Warriors:
Nine warriors.14

On November 7, 1825, H. Atkinson and Benjamin O'Fallon reported to the Secretary of War, Hon. James Barbour, the following:

The Chayennes are a tribe of Indians driven by the Sioux some years since from the Red river country across the Missouri, and now inhabit the country on the Chayenne river, from near its mouth back to the Black Hills. Their habits, pursuits, and means of subsistence, and manner of dress, are similar to those of the Sioux. Like them, they live in leather lodges, and rove at pleasure, according to the direction in which buffalo are to be found; use the bow and quiver, but are very well armed with fuses, and have an abundance of horses and mules. They are very friendly to the whites, and at peace with the Ogallalas, Siounes (branches of the Sioux) and Arickaras. They are estimated at three thousand souls, of which from five hundred and fifty to six hundred are warriors. Their principal rendezvous is towards the Black Hills, and their trading ground at the mouth of Cherry River, a branch of the Chayenne, forty miles above its mouth. They have had, but little intercourse, heretofore, with traders. Their articles of traffic are robes and some beaver.15

From Lieutenant G. K. Warren's map of North America including all the Recent Geographical Discoveries, 182616 the Shiennes were west of the Missouri and between its branches, the Shienne and Sarwaccarno Rivers, as far west as the Tongue, a branch of the Yellow Stone River, and through the Black Hills.

From George Catlin's map. Outline Map of Indian Locations in 1833,17 we find the Shiennes as far south as the North Platte, and more in that part of the country, which is today Wyoming, and east of the Rocky Mountains.

Bent's Fort was built on the upper Arkansas, (Colorado) in 1832, where a large number of Cheyenne decided to establish permanent headquarters, while the balance remained along the waters of the North Platte, which later became a part of Wyoming. Those remaining in this part of the country are known as the Northern Cheyenne, and those migrating to the Arkansas, the Southern Cheyenne. The only difference being geographical, as they visited back and forth and continued tribal relations.

In a general way the habitat of the Cheyenne Indians has been traced to 1832, establishing the fact that they were living in that part of the Indian country, which later became Wyoming, at the time George Catlin, the noted artist whose paintings of Indians of North and South America are in the Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C, journeyed up the Missouri River from St. Louis to Fort Union, a distance of over 2,000 miles, traveling in the most primitive way ''to rescue from oblivion" the primitive looks and customs of the North American Indian, in color and pen, and to preserve in picture these interesting but declining and some destined to be extinct peoples.

Catlin left St. Louis early in the spring of 1832, made the journey up the Missouri in the steamer Yellow stone, and after many delays and difficulties arrived about three months later, June 26, at Fort Union, an American Fur Company post, at the mouth of the Yellowstone River on the north bank of the Missouri River.

Mr. Catlin painted many Indians, scenes, animal life on the plains, etc., while at this post, but it was not until on his homeward journey in the fall of 1832 when he stopped at Laidlaw's Fort (Old Fort Pierre) at the mouth of the Teton River that he encountered a party of Cheyenne who were ''on a friendly visit to the Sioux."19

He relates that on his downward voyage to St. Louis and during his stay at the mouth of the Teton, at Laidlaw's Fort, while painting his portraits amongst the Sioux, he painted a ''noble Shienne Chief by the name of Nee-hee-o-ee-woo-tis (the wolf on the hill). The Chief of a party of that tribe on a friendly visit to the Sioux,"20 and of the Chief's wife, a Cheyenne woman, Tis-see-woo-na-tis, (She who bathes her knees). The Chief "was clothed in a handsome dress of deer skins, very neatly garnished with broad bands of porcupine quill work down the sleeves of his shirt and his leggings, and all the way fringed with scalp-locks. His hair was very profuse, and flowing over his shoulders; and in his hand he held a beautiful Sioux pipe, which had just been presented to him by Mr. K'Kenzie, the Trader. This was one of the finest looking and most dignified men that I have met in the Indian country; and from the account given of him by the Traders, a man of honor and strictest integrity.22 He was considered a rich Indian, owning over 100 head of horses.

Note: Laidlaw's Fort (Old Fort Pierre) was one of the most important and productive of the American Fur Company's post. Laidlaw was another Scotchman and a member as well as agent of the American Fur Company, who with M'Kenzie had the agency of the Fur Company's transactions in the Rocky Mountains and upper Missouri region.21

Note: Fort Union was built in 1829 by Kenneth M'Kenzie (Makenzie in Patrick Gass's Lewis and Clarke's Journal to the Rocky Mountainsi 1847) a Scotchman born in the Highlands, who came to America in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company. In 1820 he left the services of the Hudson Bay Company and established business of his own. "In 1829 he crossed to the upper Missouri and established Fort Union"; is he became a member and agent of the American Fur Company; had control of all the service connected with northwestern fur trade until 1939, when he sold out and moved to St. Louis.


Ne-hee-o-ee-woo-tis, (Wolf on the Hill) Cheyenne Chief,
Original painting by George Catlin, 1832.


Tis-see-woo-na-tis, (She who Bathes her Knees.) Cheyenne woman,
wife of the Cheyenne Chief. From original painting by George Catlin, 1832.

The Cheyenne Indian woman, Tis-see-woo-na-tis, possessed all the savage beauty any of these daughters of dress being made of mountain-sheep skins, tastefully ornamented with quills and beads, and her long black hair plaited in large braids that hung down on her breast."23

Catlin found the Cheyenne to be a small tribe of about 3,000, who lived as neighbors to the Sioux on the west of them, and between the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountains. He claimed that ''there is no finer race of men in North America, and none were superior in stature, except the Osage; scarcely a man in the tribe, full grown, was less than six feet in height."24 At that time the Cheyenne were undoubtedly the richest in horses of any tribe on the Continent. This can be accounted for in that living in a country as they did where the greatest number of wild horses were grazing on the prairies, they caught them in great numbers and sold them to the Sioux, Mandan and other tribes, as well as to the Fur Traders. With wars, pestilence and the advance of civilization through the years, the Cheyenne tribe was greatly reduced and was gradually subdued. In 1878-79 the Government attempted to colonize the Northern Cheyenne with the Southern branch, but this had disastrous results, a great number of their Chiefs and warriors being killed. In 1884, by the President's Proclamation, they were assigned to the Tongue River Agency, Montana, where they are still residing.25

The fate of these sons of the earth was that of other peoples, fighting for what they believed to be rightfully theirs. These original tenants of the soil, who became fugitives from the civilized man, were forced to leave their earliest habitat, and become a people of the vast treeless plains, ''desolate fields of silence", until another day, when again they were forced to accept a conclusion, which was inevitable. It was "the survival of the fittest" then, as it will be at the end of the conflict of today.

1. Jackson, William H. Miscellaneous Publication No. 9, United States Geological Survey of the Territories 1877, quoted in Annual Report, Board of Regents, Smithsonian Institution, 1885, pt. V, p. 91, which is The George Catlin Indian Gallery, by Thomas Donaldson.
2. Brinton, Daniel G., The Lenape and their Legends, 1885, quoted in Annual Report, Board of Regents, Smithsonian Institution 1885, pt. V, p. 89.
3. Brinton, Daniel G., Races and Peoples, Philadelphia, David McKay, 1901, p. 253.
4. Jackson, W. H., op. cit., p. 91.
5. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bull. 30, p. 251.
6. Wissler, Clark, Curator Emeritus, The American Museum
of Natural History, New York City, Letter to Author, July 13, 1943.
7. American Bureau of Ethnology, Bull. 30, p. 251.
8. Jackson, W. H., op. cit., p. 91.
9. Ibid., p. 91.
10. American State papers, vol. VI, Indian Affairs, vol. 11, p. 605.
11. Ibid.
12. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bull. 30, p. 251.
13. United States Statutes, 7 Stat. 255-256.
14. Ibid. 7 Stat. 256.
15. American State papers, op. cit., p. 606. (Words in parenthesis inserted by the writer).
16. 33rd Cong. 2nd Sess. H. R. Ex. Doc. No. 91, p. 30. [serial 801].
17. Donaldson, Thomas, The George Catlin Indian Gallery, p. 422, which is pt. V of the Annual Report of the Board of Regents, Smithsonian Institution 1885.
18. Donaldson, Thomas, op. cit. P. 432 (f.n.)
19. Catlin, Georfie North American Indians, Philadelphia, Leary Stuart and Company, 1913. Vol. 2, p. 2.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid. Vol. 1, p. 233.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid.
25. General Data Concerning Indian Reservations, 1929. Dept. of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C.

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Source: Annals of Wyoming, Volume 15, April 1943, Wyoming Historical Department, Cheyenne, Wyoming.


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